The dominant media narrative of the Israel-Hamas conflict goes something like this: Of course Hamas should not have been launching rocket attacks against Israel. And yes, Hamas is a terrorist organization. And sure it’s regrettable that Hamas has embedded itself in civilian populations in order to cause collateral damage in the form of Palestinian deaths. We (grudgingly) grant all that. But the real offense is Israel’s response, which, we are told by countless commentators, is “disproportionate.” Israel has a right to self-defense – but in this instance, it is massively overreacting.
Yet if Israel’s response is disproportionate, then so, too, was America’s response to the attacks of September 11th. After all, the attacks by al Qaeda, while deadly, were limited to a multi-pronged strike on a single day. Thousands of Americans died in the terrorist attacks – but in response, did America have to declare war on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan – a war that merited the support of NATO and has now entered its eighth year?
To the vast majority of Americans, to most other nations, and even to the United Nations, the U.S. war in Afghanistan was a just use of force. The Taliban regime, after all, was allowing Afghanistan to be used as a safe haven for al Qaeda, a place for training and planning and launching attacks. The United States, in the eyes of most of the world, was fully justified in overthrowing the Taliban regime in an effort to uproot al Qaeda and break the back of that terrorist network. Our response was deemed as proportional in part because of the good being defended and the possible good that may result from the action (among the standards comprising the just war theory).
Israel is acting along the same ethical lines – yet when Israel does it, its actions are met with almost universal condemnation. The transparent double standard that is applied to Israel – a state that acts with extraordinary care to protect enemy noncombatants – is deeply troubling. Let’s just say if the nation we were talking about was non-Jewish, the response from many quarters would be dramatically different and far more sympathetic.
The other thing we hear from commentators is chastisement grounded in moral equivalence. The Israel-Hamas clash is the latest event in a “cycle of violence,” we are told. Both sides are responsible for the conflict, so both sides have equal responsibility to end it. A pox on both their houses.
This critique is morally dubious. It takes two to fight – but it only takes one to start it. It is as if a bully on the playground repeatedly assaults another child who is quietly playing on the swings. When the second child fights back, the teacher [read: the international community] criticizes both children for fighting. The problem is that one is fighting in self-defense while the other one is fighting out of aggression. To extend the analogy even further: in this instance, the bully is assaulting a child who set aside a section of the playground to give to the bully, in the hopes that he would be satisfied. Yet it turns out this only fueled his aggression. When Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, it did what no other country has ever done: set aside sovereign territory for Palestinian self-rule. In return, Israel has been on the receiving end of almost 6,500 rocket and mortar attacks over the course of three years.
There is a cast of mind among many in the West that simply cannot accept that Iran-backed Hamas – unlike Egypt or Jordan – has not made its own inner peace with the existence of Israel. It wants to kill Jews and liquidate the Jewish state. That realization has to be the starting point for everything else. Such an enemy cannot be tamed by typical state-to-state negotiations; it must therefore be dealt a crippling military blow. That is what Israel is now attempting to do. It won’t be easy, but it must be done. And in this latest battlefield in the larger conflict between civilization and barbarism, we need to unambiguously take the side of civilization. That is, after all, what Israel did with the United States in the aftermath of 9/11.